Entertainment: Japanese anime YOUR NAME receiving Native American-spin by Oklahoma screenwriter

by Charles Gerian

Yesterday it was reported by Hollywood news site Deadline that prolific nerd icon J.J. Abrams and his production company Bad Robot had tapped hipster-centric love guru Marc Webb to direct the forthcoming live action adaptation of the 2016 anime film YOUR NAME for Paramount Pictures. While American interpretations of Japanese anime aren't rare- BATTLE ANGEL ALITA is opening this weekend- this one's plot is a particular point of interest.

Per Deadline: “In this reimagined version, a young Native American woman living in a rural area and a young man from Chicago discover they are magically and intermittently swapping bodies. When a disaster threatens to upend their lives, they must journey to meet and save their worlds.”

In the original film, the two leads are a boy in Tokyo and a young girl in a rural village steeped in traditional and culture. The remake poises the leads as a Native American girl and a Chicago native, meaning that it's safe to assume the American Indian culture will be prevalent in this film leading me to suspect it might take place somewhere in our neck of the woods.

Native American representation in cinema is, by and large, pretty rare unless it's about their hardships. 2017's incredibly haunting WIND RIVER was the most recent example and dealt with the terrifying statistic of Native women on reservations that are raped, murdered, or missing, and the complete indifference the United States justice system has for them. In one of my last articles I discussed KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, the planned Martin Scorcese/Leo DiCaprio picture about the Osage county murders and the birth of the FBI. Not a lot of “fun for the whole family” content here, but it is obviously content that is important to the greater understanding of Native American culture and their suffering.

The artistic movement of “revisionist westerns” and “neo-westerns” (two subversive takes on the John Wayne-fueled Hollywood genre) paint Native Americans and traditional “cowboy heroes” in more violent and morally grey lights so that neither are particularly bad nor particularly good. Recent examples include Disney's critically maligned but artistically important 2013 film THE LONE RANGER, 2016's HELL OR HIGH WATER and BONE TOMAHAWK, 2017's WIND RIVER, and 2018's HOSTILES. All of these films, more or less, deal the Native Americans plains tribes in ways that highlight bloodshed and violence. Like I said, these are important depictions but they are not always positive.

YOUR NAME could, theoretically, change these notions. In 2013 the number of tribes recognized by the Federal government was less than 600 and while there are more think-pieces than you can shake a stick at regarding Latino and African-American representation in Hollywood- both of which have seen tremendous spikes in the past few years- there has been almost nothing lead by Native Americans. The most recent major Hollywood film with a majority of the cast being Native was Terrence Malik's THE NEW WORLD which dealt with a more historically accurate version of the Pocahontas story.

In the Japanese original, as I mentioned, the girl Mitsuha Miyamizu lives in a fictional village where she comes from a long line of Shrine Maidens, women who watch over a religious site as part of their Shinto religion. Shinto is the “traditional religion” of Japan “that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past,” (Wikipedia). This, of course, makes sense that screenwriter Eric Heisserer would choose an as-of-yet specified Native American religion to mirror the anime's traditionally Japanese roots. Heisserer, an Oscar-nominee for 2016's ARRIVAL, is a Norman, Oklahoma native which means he likely grew up around and was largely influenced by our state's rich culture and history.

Time will tell which “tribe” this girl will be from or what exactly will happen in the film regarding her background, but it is incredibly awesome to consider that such a high-profile film will be made dealing with such a fascinating people and subject and not be focused solely on violence or racism.